Survey Design for TANF Caseload Project: Summary Report and Recommendations. Rational for Why the Topic Was Chosen

08/28/2002

Although they are derived from different sources, the presence of such language and learning problems as learning disabilities, limited English proficiency, and illiteracy can present serious obstacles to finding and keeping employment. Written and oral communication skills are often named by employers as some of the most desired job skills.

A learning disability is a neurobiological disorder that can affect a persons ability to read, listen, speak, write, spell, reason, recall, organize information, and do mathematics. It is not the result of low intelligence; in fact, comprehensive assessment typically shows a significant discrepancy between the learning disabled persons cognitive ability and his or her actual achievement. Learning disabilities can lead to frequent job changes, problems on the job, and underemployment and unemployment. Evidence is building that a substantial proportion of welfare recipients may have such a condition. Using screening and assessment, the states of Kansas and Washington have estimated that between one-quarter and one-third of their TANF populations have learning disabilities.

People who are illiterate may experience difficulty obtaining and keeping employment because they are unable to complete application forms, understand written directions, and read important information. Like people who have limited proficiency in English because it is not their native language, they may be restricted to jobs that require minimal communication, such as manual labor, housekeeping, or meat-packing jobs, which tend to be low-wage, seasonal, or physically demanding. In addition, foreign-born individuals are more likely to be in poorer health, which can affect their employability and make them less likely to have jobs that offer health insurance, compared to the native population. Finally, cultural attitudes about work can sometimes restrict work opportunities for non-native women.

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